Secret War Work at EKCO

by Linda Kendall

In 1937 I worked for EKCO in Southend, and we were doing secret war work in preparation for the outbreak of war. We made radios for tanks, commando packs and aircraft. About sixty of us did this work, putting the components together and soldering them in place. We were told that it was very important work, and were sworn to secrecy. We felt a bit special about this, proud to be chosen and considered honest and trustworthy. Our work was inspected and passed by the War Office and we were commended for the standard achieved.

We had good working conditions, the canteen provided good food and we had lunchtime entertainment to raise morale. When war was declared in 1939 we just accepted it really, we knew it was inevitable. In 1940 we were evacuated to Woking in Surrey to continue with our job, because of local activities like laying mines and bombing.

I married a sergeant from the Highland Light Infantry in 1940 when I was 28yrs old. He was billeted in Southend and we had a typical quick wartime wedding – all arranged in about three months. I wore a maroon and grey outfit with a maroon hat tipped over one eye.

We had no time for a honeymoon. Unfortunately the marriage only lasted three years and I found myself a single woman again.

I continued working in Woking until 1943 when I returned for family reasons, staying with EKCO but not on war work. I have fond memories of Woking, we often got invited to Purbright to attend dances before the troops were sent overseas. They sent coaches to transport us there and treated us very well and respectfully. There was no hanky-panky. The dance bands were of good quality and we did the jive and jitterbug.

I well remember a new year with the Scots Guards, the wonderful dances, the pipes and kilts and the unforgettable atmosphere. We sometimes went to officers camp dances, or to the Welsh Guards, but it was all good honest fun which has left happy memories. We saved coupons for our clothes, wore bright red lipstick and dyed our legs brown and put a line up the back because we could not get stockings. I had jet black hair in a typically forties fashion, curled at the sides with tongs heated in the fire or on the stove. I had my hair permed by being plugged into the electricity supply, but it did last about six months. We had Ponds cold cream (which I still use), mascara which we had to spit on, and thin eyebrows.

I did have a couple of scares though – I narrowly escaped being bombed because I got onto the wrong bus when going to a hair appointment, and when in Shoebury with a friend, we saw a plane laying mines shot down over the Thames Estuary.

I came through unscathed, but not everyone was as lucky.